In the summer of 2017, I met a young Johnson County couple looking to improve their lives. As I talked to them about Johnson County Community College, the item that was most important to them was a simple one: Do not raise tuition rates on county residents.
In my first meeting with the college’s president, Joe Sopcich, he echoed that sentiment, saying that he would do anything — including eliminating the track and cross country program and even tearing out the school’s outdoor track — to prevent raising rates that would harm prospective students, such as single mothers looking to go back to school.
That was then. Today, conservatives in Johnson County are spending time sending email from their county party organization with anti-LGBT messaging and engaging in online disputes that rarely use facts and instead opt for scare tactics. Rather than debate ideas, they throw around buzz terms like “radical socialist agenda” and “the LGBT agenda.” Incumbent members of the JCCC Board of Trustees who received endorsements in a Johnson County Republican Party screed against LGBT rights have so far refused to denounce these hate-filled endorsements.
So how did this start? Were radical socialists at the heart of asking for a freeze on Johnson County residents’ tuition? That would certainly be news to Republican U.S. Senate candidate and my fellow trustee Dave Lindstrom, who I learned earlier in the year had thought that another plan — one that would lock the rates of Johnson County residents while increasing rates for international and out-of-district students — might be a better idea.
In January of this year, I urged the board to consider Lindstrom’s tuition plan. These are public meetings, and you can watch this one, like all of them, on YouTube. While I received no second on my request for consideration, my call for public transparency about why rates were raised last December certainly isn’t about a “radical agenda” — unless that radical agenda is transparency.
Johnson County residents deserve open and transparent answers to key questions. Why did the college choose last month to send a digital paper contract for nearly a half a million dollars to an out-of-state company with a poor track record on civil rights over a Lenexa-based entity? How do we build a system that favors keeping most of our money in state and in our community? How can we enact a transparent and open bidding process with guidelines that favor the long-term economic benefit of Johnson County? Why did a recent survey indicate that faculty and staff are increasingly distrustful of the leadership of the college? These are real questions that need answers.
College Promise, a program I have advocated since becoming a JCCC board member, promotes the idea that no student should leave a community college with mountains of debt. It opens the door for students who cannot afford to attend a college to receive an opportunity to succeed.
It is also smart economics. The world is changing. It wasn’t until 1910 that high school became a standard in many communities. That change came about because students needed more education to achieve in comparison to their parents from an earlier era. Today, individuals approaching the job market need more skills to be hired in jobs that can provide for them and their families.
Students with educational opportunities are less likely to fall into poverty and to need public assistance. Employers benefit by having a better-educated talent pool to fill their jobs. When people have better jobs, they will spend more money in our community.
That’s not socialism, that’s capitalism. Proactive investments in the future of our community will build a stable and growing tax base that provides our companies with better employees, benefiting every business.
Johnson County residents need to cut through the fear campaign. They have an opportunity on Tuesday to cast votes for JCCC trustees who will be working on the side of transparency, new voices and new ideas.
I’ve already cast my ballot — and this year, I’m proud to say, I voted for change.
Angeliina Lawson is a member of the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees and chair of its Human Resources Committee.